Monday, February 02, 2009

Ad Industry - the Last Frontier?

Last February when I blogged about advertisers under-serving Asian-American consumers, I referenced a Calgon commercial (pictured left) I remember well from my childhood which was rife with stereotypical assumptions and images of Asian-Americans.

Just look at the image, does anyone honestly think the commercial was written, or cast with a sensitivity to Asian-Americans in mind?

Images like this illustrate how the appalling lack of diversity amongst advertising professionals sanctions the creation and use of commercials that often use racial stereotypes to sell products to a demographic that isn't Asian-American.

Don't be fooled either, very little has changed within the advertising industry since this commercial was running in the 1970's - take a look at the Bendick & Egan Advertising Industry Report: Race and Employment in the Advertising Industry, January 2009.

On January 9th I blogged about the ad industry being taken to task for the alarmingly lax strides made in the hiring of minority ad professionals and inequity in compensation for blacks in the industry. I generally don't see a lot of mainstream media coverage exploring the extent of the influence that advertising wields over our perceptions of race and culture.

Most mainstream media, be it NBC Nightly News, Time or even People Magazine are far more concerned with selling ads than looking at how those ads affect the way Americans think about race or perceive people of different backgrounds.

Fortunately there are b2b publications like Ad Age that consistently devote coverage and analysis of the ad industry's power over perception; and how that impacts race.

To mark Black History Month Ad kicked off a month-long series of articles with an interesting piece on how the ad industry serves, or under-serves the 40 million African-American consumers in the US.

The article raises interesting questions about how the ad industry engages black consumers, who spend almost $3 trillion annually. $3 trillion in spending and the ad industry still takes that segment of the US population for granted? How pathetic.

The unprecedented initiative launched by law firm Mehri & Skalet and the NAACP to confront the ad industry about it's inability to desegregate it's ranks and create a work environment that is more reflective of our nation's cultural makeup is receiving a lot of publicity - but not in the mainstream publications, television stations, Websites and radio that reach most Americans.

With the Superbowl hype making headlines recently, journalists and media pundits alike have been looking at all kinds of questions about commercial content. Which Superbowl ads made them laugh? How much does a 30-second buy during the Superbowl cost? Are TV advertisers pitching the appropriate products in a given time slot?

How many people watch commercials on TV and count the number of minority faces they see? How many people pause to think what a magazine ad says to people of different religious backgrounds?

When there isn't a diverse group of people sitting around the conference room table or in cubicles of the major ad agencies creating the commercial content we see, we shouldn't be surprised when ads don't enage or speak to consumers of all backgrounds.

Until Madison avenue and the holding companies that dominate the industry get serious about it, we'll get exactly what they've been serving us; commercial content served up by people who don't represent the demographic they're targeting.

It's not an 'Ancient Chinese secret.'

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